Domestic Cat World Groupings And Some Breed Origins


If you click on this you’ll be taken to a map that shows information about how the domestic cat – all domestic cats, genetically speaking – are clustered into four groups. The link opens a new page so you can flick between this text and the map.

The map (created by Michael using Google Docs) is a partial visual representation of an interesting study¹ into how the domestic cat, from the standpoint of genetic data, can be grouped into four areas as marked. These areas are Asia, Mediterranean Basin, Western Europe and East Africa.

This clearly excludes North and South America. These massive continents with Central America have no say in the origin of the domestic cat. Everything to do with the modern domestic cat in North, South and Central America is an import from other areas and continents. I presume that this is because of the Atlantic Ocean. It prevented trade and the early domestic cats were dispersed through trade. Australia is another land mass where there are no cats other than imported domestic cats.

That is not meant to be critical of the Americas (obviously) or to upset anyone. It is just a fact. This means that all the cat breeds in America are ultimately imports. The study concluded that most natural cat breeds are indeed from the areas which we are told they are from. For example, the rare Sokoke is from Kenya as stated.

Grey Persian cat
This cat, a Persian, has nothing to do with Persia (Iran) or anywhere in the Middle East. European parts assembled in America. Photo: copyright Helmi Flick.

However some breeds are not. The Persian has been so bred over the years that it has lost its original DNA. It is now associated with Western Europe meaning genetically it comes from Europe. The American Turkish Angora is not the same cat as the Turkish Angora in Turkey. It is “Made in America.”

Another cat that has been made in the USA is the Japanese Bobtail. Its DNA originates from Europe. And again the famous Egyptian Mau has almost lost its original DNA because of breeding with cats that originate from Europe. In short the Egyptian Mau has little or no connection with the original in Egypt, which is still there, incidentally, only it is a maligned, ill-treated, street cat, which gives me a clue as to how the Ancient Egyptians treated their cats contrary to well established history.

The original domestic cats originate from the Mediterranean Basin and probably specifically from the Fertile Crescent  which is to the east of the Mediterranean Sea (where Syria is, approximately). However, it is probable that domestication took place over thousands or hundreds of years in different areas of the Mediterranean Basin.

Cats spread to virtually all parts of the Old World, probably along trade routes between ancient civilizations. In spite of their rapid spread, cats have remained amazingly similar to their wild felid ancestors (Felis silvestris subspp.) in form and function….

As stated in the map, it seems that once the domestic cat had been shipped out to Asia along trade routes with traders and so on, the cat evolved there in isolation from the remainder of the domestic cats in other parts of the world.

The Southeast Asian breeds, including Birman, Burmese, Havana Brown, Korat, Siamese and Singapura, form a grouping that is distinct and at the opposite end of the genetic spectrum from the Western breeds¹

One last point, the genetic variation of random breed cats is less than that found in humans (86% compared to 93-95%) and purebred cats have significantly less genetic variation at 61% due to breeding practices.

(1) The study: The Ascent of Cat Breeds: Genetic Evaluations of Breeds and Worldwide Random Bred Populations. (link) – My understanding is that I am allowed to quote sections as the document is published under a creative commons license. I have deliberately been selective and simplified it as it is a technical subject. I hope I have not changed the meaning when doing this.

7 thoughts on “Domestic Cat World Groupings And Some Breed Origins”

  1. A couple of points I would to elaborate on. The use of the term Mediterranean is a definite misnomer in referring to a feline grouping. Along the north shores of the Mediterranean sea ar Spain, France, Italy. Greece, and Turkey. The cats in the first three countries belong to the European grouping whereas in Turkey they are different. Greece may have a mixture of the two grouping but no data is available. Along the southern shores data is only available for Tunisia is available and the cats there are predominantly West European, and probably the same in Morocco, Algeria, and Libya. In Egypt the cats are a mix of Turkish, Israeli, and Jordanian, with a little Iranian and East African influence. Consequently the term Mediterranean is inappropriate. It is widely used even by experts but it is wrong. The correct term would be East Mediterranean/Anatolian grouping since the cats in that specific region are distinct from central and western regions. The least out-crossed and most homogeneous cats are found in Anatolia suggesting that cat domestication originated there which then spread out to other regions including Egypt. Egyptian cats are composed of felines from at least 6 different regions and is more of a melting pot than a place of origin. The first known evidence of cat domestication was found at Shillourokambos in Cyprus dated 7,5000 BC long before the Egyptian civilizations existed. The find is linked to settlers from Eastern Anatolia.
    The Ascent of Cat Breeds: Genetic Evaluations of Breeds and Worldwide Random Bred Populations is a pretty horrendous mix of fact,fiction and assumptions. It is highly flawed because western cat fancy Angoras and Vans are used as if they were the original native cats of Turkey. Cat fancy Angoras and Vans are of the West European grouping, in other words a cat fancy creation, and native Turkish cats are of the E Mediterranean/Anatolian grouping. To study European cats to make revelations on the origin of cat domestication in the Middle East is nonsensical. It was Driscoll who made this discovery, not Leslie Lyons or Monica Lipinski.

  2. Amazing research. Thanks a lot Michael.Hope your site becomes “NO1” in the “Cat World”. I was sad to read that “” is closing its “Cat Diary” branch of its website. I will be losing a lot of my valuable “Research Material” studied through my observation of my house cats on “”.Had entered a detailed “Diary” of the cats on “Catster” .One thing i have realized in the “INTERNET ERA” is that sites appear and vanish with regularity.Your site is very relevant as it has a “Live Audience” of cat owners and lovers, besides, your encyclopedic research and knowledge is the key to “P.O.C”.I am happy that “P.O.C” does have my articles in the library.Akin to Cats evolving and developing into different species over the years and decades so also are “Internet Sites” evolving.

    • Thanks Rudolph. Catster is owned by a business and when websites are owned by businesses they operate on purely commercial reasons so if there isn’t enough money coming in they close (or parts of the site). PoC is run for many more reasons than money. In fact at the moment it is non-profit. Profit is not the motivator and PoC will not close as long as I am alive!

      You can always transfer your diaries to PoC. If you’d like you can give me links to the pages on Catster and I’ll do it for you.


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